Somen's £bstume in Ontario
k. H. BRKTT
/ keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are what and why and when
And how and where and who. rudyard kipling
ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM SERIES
WHAT ? WHY ? WHEN ? HOW ? WHERE ? WHO ?
1 K. B. Brett: women's costume in early Ontario
2 Gerald Stevens: early Ontario glass
3 Walter M. Tovell: the Niagara escarpment
4 R. R. H. Lemon: fossils in Ontario
5 W. E. Swinton: dinosaurs of Canada
6 L. S. Russell: the mastodon
7 W. E. Swinton: evolution
8 Winifred Needier: jewellery of the ancient near east
9 Walter M. Tovell: Niagara falls: story of a river
10 E. S. Rogers: the false face society of the iroquois
11 A. D. Tushingham: the beardmore relics: hoax or history?
12 L. S. Russell: lighting the pioneer Ontario home
13 Gerald Stevens: early Ontario furniture
14 K. B. Brett: women's costume in Ontario (1867-1907)
© The Governors of the University of Toronto, 1966
This series was edited in the Information Services of the Royal Ontario Museum by
Ian Montagnes. It was designed by Harold Kurschenska, and printed at the University
of Toronto Press. Photographs in this booklet are by Lee Warren, rom photographer.
Catalogue illustrations courtesy of Eaton's Archives.
cover: For a sunny spin in the country in the mid-'90s, a tweed suit and high-collared
blouse were very stylish. The girl on the left is wearing a bow tie and hat with a
conical crown and narrow brim; the one on the right wears a long tie and a trimmed
boater. The suits are finished at the waist with wide, buckled belts.
Quotation from the just so stories by Rudyard Kipling, by permission of
Mrs. George Bambridge and The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited
K° NT «IO MUSEUM
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
in Ontario (1867-1907)
were these costumes worn'
The first four decades of Canada's life as a nation saw some of the most
dramatic changes the feminine silhouette has ever undergone. From the
crinolines of the early Victorian period, fashions proceeded through the
rise and fall of the bustle to Edwardian extravagances of frills and fur-
belows, rustling silks and tight lacing.
There was also a growing emphasis on clothing designed specially for a
particular time of day or for a particular purpose. Besides the traditional
riding habit, other sports attire appeared. The most spectacular was the
bicycling costume. Today it is almost impossible to understand the impact
oS. the bicycle on Victorian society, but it was enormous: for the first time
people who could never afford to own a horse and carriage could travel
easily and inexpensively. Thousands of young adults took advantage of it.
For women in particular the bicycle provided a new mobility and a new
freedom. It is hardly surprising that special costumes developed for the
participants in this new pastime. Later, motoring coats made their appear-
ance to protect passengers from the dust and dirt of driving in the early
horseless carriages. During the last quarter of the 19th century practical
costumes also made their appearance on the tennis court and at other games.
Jade green silk day dress
with patterned white satin
stripes, made about 1869,
has a straight waist and a
separate puffed overskirt,
and is trimmed with green
headed fringe. The frilling
has pinked edges.
Even bathing dresses followed style trends and appeared frequently in
By far the most important development was the tailored suit. This trim
and practical costume gained popularity as feminine independence increased.
That new phenomenon, the business woman, found it sensible wear for the
office and other daytime activities. But in the privacy of her home, woman
in this period sought relief from tight lacing and tailored fit: she wore
elegant loose fitting tea-gowns and peignoirs of fine silks bedecked with
ribbons and laces, the ancestors of today's housecoats. A simpler version
was the wrapper made of sturdy wool or cotton, which could be bought
from Eaton's mail order for as little as one dollar.
The trend towards specialized clothing also affected the wedding dress.
Up to this time a woman could expect to obtain long use from the good silk
dress she was married in and wear it on many occasions. Now, more often
than not, it was suitable only for the wedding and bridal receptions.
WHERE were these costumes worn?
By 1867 southern Ontario was widely settled. During the next 40 years its
Two-piece dress of pale green
pinstriped taffeta is trimmed
with dark blue frills, fringe
and piping. The back seams
are emphasized by piping. It
was made between 1876 and
1878 when the low side
pocket was in fashion.
many communities grew steadily, if at varying rates, and their women had
the time and opportunity to make a curtsey to Fashion. Today every city
and town, and most rural communities, can boast at least one ancestral
gown worn during this period. Many have survived. Some are in museums.
Others are family treasures which make only occasional appearances at
commemorative events or fancy dress balls. Events such as these, alas, have
sealed the doom of many a fine gown by destructive alteration or wear
The best clothes of a large cross-section of Ontario society have come
down to us. These are the wedding dresses, the best silk dresses — costumes
made for special events or brought back from abroad, which for sentimental
reasons have been treasured. Some are modest little costumes made at
home of inexpensive silks, sometimes from a dress of the earlier crinoline
period. (An entire dress of the late '70s or '80s could be made from a skirt
of the '60s.) Others, of fine wool, satin, and velvet, were professionally
tailored and are evidence of ample means. Only in the second half of this
Cream wool one-piece
dress of about 1880 was
cut on princess lines and
trimmed with embroidered
satin. It has the square
neck fashionable for
evening wear in the '70s
and '80s, a very low bustle,
and a detachable train
which buttons under the
skirt frill. (Upper Canada
period were the stylish products of Paris, London, and New York worn by
those who could afford such luxuries, or carried home by travellers.
Less has survived from the daily wardrobe of the average housewife. We
know that as a result of improved communications she had access to larger
and more varied supplies of imported fabrics and trimmings. With dresses
of manufactured materials more readily available, the sturdy and practical
homespuns were banished to work-a-day clothes in country communities
and eventually to pieced quilts and tufted rugs. A few simple day or summer
dresses of printed cotton have escaped the ragbag, but none of homespun
has so far come to light.
^ (P ZZ7 were they made?
A practical domestic sewing machine had been on the market ever since the
middle of the century. The initial response had been cool, however, and
neither the chainstitch nor the slightly later lockstitch machines were in
This photograph was taken
about 1881, The trained
velvet gown has panniers
and is trimmed with frills.
ruching, and chenille
fringe. A lace-trimmed
house cap is worn with it.
general use until about 1865. From then on no home was complete without
one. In this period all dresses, suits, outdoor clothes, and much underwear
were machine sewn except for details, though sometimes trousseau lingerie
and fine blouses were hand sewn. It is perhaps no coincidence that an
ostentatious display of fancy frilling followed hard on the heels of wide-
spread acceptance of this time-saving invention.
Most of the dresses of the '70s were anonymously made either by a
member of the family or by the local tailor or dressmaker, and it should be
noted that the skill of the tailor was in greater demand than that of the
dressmaker. Makers' labels first appeared in France and England in the
1 860s, but not in the Ontario dresses which have been examined until
Ready made garments — skirts, blouses, house dresses, wrappers, and
some types of coats — as well as accessories grew more easily available. In
1884 Eaton's (opened in 1869) brought out its first mail order catalogue.
Simpson's (opened in 1872) followed in 1894. The early numbers carried
For a bride of 1886, this
white satin wedding dress
was made with a trained
bustle. The side shown
here has a pannier drape;
the other has vertical
pleats. The sleeves come
to just below the elbow
and are finished with a
lace frill. The matching
shoes have Louis heels and
pointed toes. The veil is
held in place by a wax
orange blossom wreath,
and sprigs of blossom trim
no pictures but by 1895 the catalogues were well illustrated. By the end of
the century Eaton's was taking orders for dresses to be made in its dress-
making parlour to measurements supplied by the customer.
The best known high-class dressmaking establishments in Toronto at
the turn of the century were O'Brien's and Stitt's. These were patronized
not only by the local elite but also by Vice-Royalty and ladies in diplomatic
circles in Ottawa.
fy& did the fashion change?
At no time in the 19th century did feminine clothes more strikingly reflect
the taste and styles of their surroundings, or better express women's
changing attitude to life. Dresses for both street and evening wear were
swathed about with layers of material which echoed the heavy curtaining
of the contemporary sitting room and the upholstery of its furniture. Their
frills, fringes, bows, and beading matched in style the trim on table covers,
lampshades, cushions, antimacassars, and shelf and mantle valances.
left Jacket in T. Eaton Company's first illustrated catalogue, autumn and
winter 1887-88, shows beginning of sleeve fullness at shoulder, right Short
brown flowered velvet mantle with dolman sleeves trimmed with iridescent beads
and chenille and silk tape fringe. It was bought at John Catto & Company,
Toronto, about 1885.
Women's changing attitudes, on the other hand, were best exemplified by
the tailored suit — the symbol of the newly emerged career woman, and the
accepted daytime wear of women of every rank except for the most formal
occasions. The popularity of the blouse and skirt for both day and evening
wear, and the increased attention paid to sportswear, also reflected women's
fight for freedom. All found ready acceptance in North America where
women's clothing had always been simpler and styles modified to suit an
active life. The trend, in full swing in England in the 1870s, had in fact
begun much earlier on this side of the Atlantic where it had been given a
certain notoriety about 1850 by the startling appearance of Mrs. Amelia
Jenks Bloomer, leader of the Women's Rights Movement in the United
States, wearing her famous innovation in women's dress which, alas,
vanished almost as soon as it had appeared. Not until the last decade of the
century, when bicycling became a craze, did a bloomer-like garment become
a desirable addition to one's wardrobe.
During this period the women of Ontario followed English styles, as they
had in the past. But now fashions set by New York and Boston increasingly
caught their eye. Many periodicals available here were American, and
contained illustrations and descriptions of the latest creations from those
centres. The shops, too, were expanding their imports from the United
Both English and American fashion plates of daytime wear in 1867 show
FAR LEFT A trousseau tea gown of 1890
made of plain and figured yellow satin. The
back is fitted and the front hangs in folds
held in place by a ribbon tie. The sleeves just
cover the elbow and the high standup collar
is edged with yellow beads. LEFT Violet
corded silk dress of about 1894, trimmed
with purple velvet and beaded passe-
menterie. For daytime occasions the neck
could be filled in with a matching yoke and
long tight sleeves fitted under the short
puffed ones. The waistband bears the label
of Win Stitt & Co. Toronto.
right Brown and white tweed blazer and
skirt of about 1896 was worn open in front.
The trim is brown silk braid and cord.
short straight-waisted bodices buttoning up the front to a high neckline,
either open sleeves filled with undersleeves or shaped ones tight at the wrist,
and rigid, almost pyramidal gored skirts. In practice the bodices, because
they were fitted and boned, did bear some resemblance to those shown in
the plates; but the skirts were made with more gently flowing lines and still
a hint of the dome shape of a few years before. Dresses of the '60s often
have a mixture of old and new styles. It was a decade of transition.
The straight waistline and high neck continued to be worn until 1872,
but from about 1 870 there was also a low square neck for the evening and
(filled in to the throat or only suggested by applied frills) for the day. The
greatest change was in the skirt. Its line, now straighter at the front and
sides and full behind, was given by a modified form of crinoline, called a
crinolette, and amplified after 1868 by a voluminous overskirt. Up to 1873
the overskirt had a curved front section rather like an apron, sides hitched
up, and a back puffed out into a capacious bustle. A belt made a tidy finish
left The bicycle inspired a new style. Some sportswomen wore bloomers.
Others wore gaitered breeches and matching peaked caps, as advertised in the
T. Eaton Company's spring and summer catalogue for 1897. right Blue
broadcloth jacket of about J 900 bears a Robert Simpson Company label.
at the waist. Sometimes, before 1871, it had basques, cut in separate
sections at sides and back, stitched to it: from this the basqued jacket
bodice of the 1870s may have evolved. Another fashion feature from 1870
was the polonaise, a bodice and puffed overskirt in one.
After 1873 the body from neck to thigh became more and more tightly
encased in its coverings. The so-called cuirass bodice was long and slim,
requiring expert fitting. The waistline dropped and the basques lengthened
and curved closely over the hips. The skirt, draped in pleats and folds, was
drawn ever more tightly over the thighs, carrying the fullness to the back
where, held in place by tapes underneath, it cascaded over a much
diminished bustle to a train. Trains were worn in the second half of the
1 870s and early '80s on both day and evening dresses and were sometime
detachable, buttoning under the frill which invariably covered the hemline.
Another expression of this slim silhouette was an adaptation to the princess
style — so named because it was a favourite of the Princess of Wales — which
had the bodice and skirt cut in one. After 1875 the back of the bodice was
Colour plate from
Eaton's spring and
for 1902 shows
dresses which could
be made to order
in the company's
cut in six pieces, instead of four or three as in the '60s. Throughout the
1 870s the sleeve was long and narrow on day dresses and finished with a
cuff or band of frilling at the wrist. Evening gowns had a low square neck
and short, puffed sleeves.
From 1875 on, velvet and wool were again fashionable and were worn
together or in combination with opulent satins and patterned silks closely
akin to furnishing fabrics. Except for evening wear, colours in the late '70s
and the '80s were rich and sombre: browns, purples, deep reds, greens,
and blues predominated. Contrasting tones and colours were much used.
The bodice of the 1880s was still closely fitted and boned but the basque
was short, curving up over the hips and dropping to a short point, front
and back. The front opening still prevailed for daytime wear but evening
gowns were often laced up the back, a feature which had sometimes
appeared in the '60s and '70s. The high neck now ended in a low stand-up
collar which became higher towards the end of the decade. Often the bodice
front was finished with a suggestion of a bolero, a waistcoat, or a narrow
plastron. In the mid-'80s what would today be called a three-quarter length
sleeve was worn. The skirt remained straight at the front and sides — a line
emphasized by vertical pleating sometimes broken by diagonal draping or
paniers — but at the back the bustle rose once more. Between 1884 and
1889 it often protruded almost horizontally from the waist and measured
as much again from front to back as the skirt itself. The skirt cleared the
Bolero bodice of silk mesh trimmed
with lace fringe, embroidered muslin
and embroidered net, was evening
wear about 1904. It was made at
O'Brien s Ltd., Toronto and Ottawa.
The embroidered material for this pale blue wool dress was bought in Paris in
the summer of 1907 and made up for a trousseau for the following autumn.
floor in front; only on formal attire did the draperies of the bustle extend
to a train.
The general characteristics of the 1870s and '80s were echoed with
modifications in the simple tailored dress or suit, as it was sometimes called,
and the cotton house and sports dress of the period. These costumes were
far more common than the more formal attire though fewer have survived.
Bodice and skirt, both of the same material, were stripped of ornament,
and the pleated skirts were no mere fagade but allowed the wearer freedom
Coats, jackets, capes, and mantles followed the line of the dress more
closely in the '70s and '80s than in previous decades. Shawls were occa-
sionally mentioned in trousseaus as late as the mid-^Os but mantles, either
long or short, were the most characteristic outdoor wear of the period. They
were shaped at shoulders and back and often had dolman sleeves — curved
side-extensions which came over the forearm — and were either opened or
closed under the arm.
Both hats and bonnets were worn during this period, bonnets being the
more formal. In the '70s they had low crowns and narrow turned up brims,
und were bedecked with flowers, feathers and ribbons. Often they were
New York's Latest Fashions
Eaton's spring and summer catalogue of 1907 showed stylish American suits
imported from New York.
made of the same material as the dress. They were worn high and back on
the head which was dressed with a large chignon. In the '80s the hair was
piled up on the top of the head. Crowns then were often high and almost
conical in shape, but the brims remained small.
The fitted bodice, often without basques, was fashionable until 1893, its
longer line emphasized by vertical arrangements of trimming. After this
date the bodice shortened, and for daytime wear was high at the neck,
often with a yoke, and had a high stand-up collar hooked tightly around
the throat. For evening wear the neck was low and often finished with a lace
berthe, perhaps of Honiton or Brussels Point de Gaze. A slight puffing at
the shoulder began to show after 1886; it grew and by 1895 sleeves were
enormous. The female silhouette thus assumed the curious shape always
associated with '90s, centring on the much trimmed bodice and wide sleeves.
Important changes in construction also took place. The lining remained
fitted (as it had been up to this date) and the bodice was draped and
pleated over it. By 1890 the skirt had shed its elaborate trimming and by
1 893 all trace of the bustle had gone. The skirt fitted closely at the waist
with darts, was gored, and began to widen at the hem. This widening kept
pace with that of sleeves, spreading in a straight diagonal line from a very
small waist. Skirts were lined, stiffened at the hem, and worn over rustling
taffeta petticoats. Gored and sometimes bias-cut pieces provided the full-
ness at the back and these, with pleats that concealed the opening, gave the
skirt its distinctive form up to 1897. It was in this year — not in 1901 with
the death of Queen Victoria — that the Edwardian style begins.
In the 1890s the tailored suit became established in its modern form of
jacket, skirt, and blouse. Cut on severely simple lines, it had the same
silhouette of sleeves and skirt as dresses. The jacket, with turnback collar,
was worn over a blouse with a high, stiff, mannish collar and either a tie,
bow, or large decorative stud at the throat. Open jackets without buttons
were called blazers. Also in this decade the blouse and skirt were first
widely accepted for both day and evening wear. Silk or cotton blouses for
the daytime were simple, those for evening very elaborate. Both were worn
with skirts of contrasting colours or material.
FAR LEFT Mauve taffeta hound
of about 1874 trimmed with
matching chiffon and flowers.
CENTRE Claret velvet bonnet of
1887 trimmed with red and
peach colour feathers, l EFT
Green velvet hat of about
1897 trimmed with white
embroidered hat band, black
feather pompoms and, under
the brim, cerise velvet niching.
right Ivory lace hat of 1907,
trimmed with double butterfly
bow and parakeet in front. It
is edged with green velvet.
Edwardian dress construction was the most complex of any period. The
bodice, built over a fitted underbodice, was once more long by 1897 but
with softer lines than previously. Often yoked, it fell to a point in front
where, from about 1901 to 1905, it was pouched. This was one of the most
characteristic features of early 20th century dress. Throughout the period
the neckline for daytime wear was still very high at the throat with a boned
standup collar. In contrast, for evening it was very decolletee. The opening,
usually at the front, was carefully hidden under a mass of trimming. Boleros,
attached or separate, and quantities of lace were much in favour. In high
fashion sleeves were narrow again by 1897, but quite wide sleeves con-
tinued to be worn here until the end of the century. By 1900 the fullness
had, however, dropped to the lower arm. From 1905 to 1907 sleeves were
again wide at the shoulder. The skirt from 1 897 on curved smoothly over
the hips, flared out at the knee and, after 1898, trailed on the ground. It
was constructed in many ways, ranging from the "one piece skirt" with
only a centre back seam above the added flare, to various skilful arrange-
ments of yokes, pleats, tucks and flounces.
Even tailored suits of the 1900s, though comparatively simple in line,
were complex in construction. Skirts cleared the ground. Jackets were
finished stylishly with insets of contrasting materials, fancy braids and
Dress materials changed markedly in the late Victorian and Edwardian
periods. Satins, velvets, taffetas, wools, and cottons were soft and light,
Pair of white kid buttoned
boots were worn by a bride
of 1872. They have the Louis
heel typical of the period.
both in weight and in colour. The flimsy taffetas used for linings were often
weighted, and the lead content has caused much uncontrollable rotting.
The most characteristic outdoor garment of the 1890s was the short
circular cape, usually with a stand-up flaring collar. It was worn on all
occasions. Those for daytime were made of heavy broadcloth or tweed,
those for evening of silks and laces. Long fitted coats and short jackets
followed the line of the dress. All continued in fashion in the first decade
of the 20th century but capes were now fitted at the shoulders. Fur jackets
of sealskin and Persian lamb from both decades have come down to us.
By 1895 bonnets had gone out of fashion and were worn only by widows
and the elderly. Hats, with small crowns and carrying an infinite variety of
trimming, were worn perched on top of the head. The brim was beginning
to increase in size. In the 1900s crowns were either small or, as flat
"toques", extended to the edge of the brim; in either case they were heavily
trimmed with flowers, feathers, and ribbons. Hair was worn high and rolled
over a "rat" and the tilt of the hat on this dignified coiffure was of the greatest
importance. For sportswear the simple straw boater was the favourite of
In conclusion a word must be said about footwear. Both boots and shoes
were more often made of leather than fabric for daytime wear but shoes
of a matching colour or material were worn with evening dresses. The toe
was rounded during the 1860s and '70s but by the '80s it had become
pointed and longer in the '90s. The low heel which had been gaining favour
in the \ 860s for both day and evening wear rose to nearly an inch and a half
in the '70s and remained about this height to the end of the period. There
were several innovations in footwear; the buttoned boot came in about 1 870
and, a little later in that decade, the laced walking shoe and one with straps
across the instep made their first appearance.
SUGGESTED READING FOR FASHION CHANGES 1867-1907
BUCK, anne. Victorian Costume and Costume Accessories (Herbert Jenkins, London,
Women's Costume 1835-1870 (No. 4 in The Gallery of English Costume
Picture Books. William Morris Press Ltd., Manchester, 1951)
Women s Costume 1870-1900 (No. 5 in The Gallery of English Costume
Picture Books. William Morris Press Ltd., Manchester, 1953)
Women's Costume 1900-1930 (No. 6 in The Gallery of English Costume
Picture Books. William Morris Press Ltd., Manchester, 1956)
cunnington, c. w. and p. Handbook of English Costume of the Nineteenth Century
(Faber & Faber, London, 1959)
cunnington, c. w. English Women's Clothing of the Present Century (Faber &
Faber, London, 1952)
CONTEMPORARY MONTHLY PERIODICALS WITH FASHION NOTES
Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia (until 1898)
Harper's Bazaar, New York
Ladies Journal, Toronto (1880-1903?)
New Dominion Monthly, Montreal (until January 1879)
The Queen, London
CONTEMPORARY SEASONAL PUBLICATIONS
Eaton's Mail Order Catalogue from 1887
Simpsons Mail Order Catalogue from 1894